Dec 8, 2017 | By Benedict

WOOF3D, the 3D printing club of the University of Washington, has put together a streamlined process for 3D printing topographical maps. The project came about after instructor Steve Weidner wanted to print a 3D map of his family’s farm.

3D printing is dramatically changing the practice of cartography. Where once a “printer” could only make a 2D representation of a landscape, nowadays very different kinds of printer can fabricate “maps” that are essentially scaled-down models of the true landscape.

Never mind using bright colors to represent topography—3D printed maps put the physical peaks and valleys right before your eyes.

That’s all well and good, but for those without much 3D printing experience, the idea of making a 3D printed map can seem a little daunting. Where does one even start? Thankfully, a group of students at the University of Washington is doing its best to make life easier for budding 3D cartographers: under the guidance of supervisor Steve Weidner, the university’s WOOF3D 3D printing club has put together a simplified guide to 3D printing topographical maps.

Best of all, the entire process is completely free, just as long as the user has access to a computer or a 3D printer. If not, then the only cost involved is that demanded by the 3D printing bureau used to print the map at the end.

The process involves the use of two pieces of free software: IZarc, for coverting .tar files into .tif files; and QGIS, loaded with the DEMto3D plugin, for converting .tif files into .stl files. Fortunately, topographical data is easily available online at the Open Topography website, where users can select an area of land that they want to print. This means that a lot of the legwork can be carried out within your internet browser.

Once a topographical raster has been downloaded from Open Topography, IZarc and QGIS can be used to convert the data into a 3D printable format. Use of “on-the-fly CRS transformation” in QGIS will stop the model getting distorted, and the “DEM 3D printing” option of the DEMto3D plugin will create a printable output.

It sounds simple, though map makers do need to be careful to enter the correct values in various places, including the Coordinate Reference System (CRS), the exact latitude and longitude limits of their map, and various other bits of data.

Another important stage of the process is determining the base height of the map. 0 is sea level, but for small regions in very high-up areas, using the 0 height will result in a model with a comically large Z axis. The best approach, WOOF3D says, is to set this height value to the lowest point of the chosen area. (Note that, for connecting lots of little maps together, the height value needs to remain constant, else the pieces won’t match up.)

The handy guide, which can be read in full here, only came about thanks to Weidner’s interest in making a 3D printed map of his family farm in Eastern Washington, which has been in the family since 1902.

Seven WOOF3D members—Arman Naderi, Pathirat Kosakanchit, Wesley Gaskill, Benjamin Eastin, Connor Vidmar, Erik Skeel, and Mercer Peterson—were keen to help Weidner out with his project, by devising their own mapmaking process more streamlined than anything else on the internet. Each member was responsible for a separate task.

Professors Mark Ganter and Duane Storti, both of the university’s Solheim Manufacturing Science & Technology Laboratory, provided assistance and mentorship to WOOF3D.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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